The Music of Dave Miller

by Barney Quick
photo by Cindy Steele

In the days before rock ’n’ roll, people spoke of arrangements. Bands and singers would buy and sell them, and audiences delighted in hearing a particular way of delivering a song they were familiar with.

Since rock became the paradigm, it’s more common to use the term “covers,” but when covers are rendered with clear admiration for the original, as they are in the hands of Dave Miller, we can truly say we’re listening to an arrangement expert.

Miller stays busy. He makes the rounds of the Abe Martin Lodge, Harvest Moon Pizza, Muddy Boots Café, and Salt Creek Golf Retreat’s Overlook Restaurant. He still returns to his native central Indiana for occasional private parties and longstanding yearly events. “In September and October, I played fifty-six gigs in sixty days,” he says. “I haven’t had a weekend off since 1992 unless I’ve wanted it.”

He’s a tried-and-true Baby Boomer, immersed in the music from the mid-sixties onward. He lugs a crate full of ring binders to his appearances, so he’s able to draw on a library of several thousand songs by everyone from Bob Dylan to Sister Hazel.

“I grew up pretty much glued to the radio, and I still listen to it a lot,” says Miller. “If I hear something that really captures my attention, I try to find the recording and scrutinize it. Years ago, I learned songs from books, but now I have to listen closely and repeatedly. I want to be faithful to what the artist is doing.”

Miller is originally from Richmond. He spent his early adulthood and child-raising years in the Indianapolis area, working for three decades for Deluxe Check Printing. He retired at age 47. He had already begun performing professionally, at the urging of his children. “One son was in college, and he told me, ‘Dad, that stuff you play is just what our friends want to hear, and you do it better than most of the guys we hear in the places we go,’” he says.

He played various pubs around Indy, preferring long residencies to one-night gigs. “If you play one place on a given night every week, you build a following and you can do your promotion by word of mouth,” he observes.

He and his wife bought their Brown County property in 1998 and built their house on it in 2003. He eventually moved most of his musical activity to this area as well. He still does Indy-area gigs for certain venues and private-function clients. The night before Jimmy Buffet’s concert at Verizon Wireless amphitheater every year, he plays at The Depot in Lebanon, which is decked out in Caribbean splendor for the occasion.

“Brown County audiences make it a more personal experience,” he says. “They listen more closely, and appreciate the tribute I pay to the artists whose work I do. For instance, I love to play John Denver songs, and there are lots of John Denver fans in Brown County.”

Toby Myers, former bassist for Roadmaster and John Mellencamp’s band, has been helpful as Miller established himself in the area. He has offered his studio for Miller to record limited-edition CDs for friends and families. Miller frequently plays the Muddy Boots Café, owned by Myers’s wife Roberta and Tyra Nickel.

He also has an ardent supporter in Jennifer VanNess at Salt Creek. “He’s amazing,” she says. “We get calls from people asking when he’s playing.”

Miller uses a drum machine, but that’s pretty much the extent of any electronic embellishments. “I work on bass lines for my guitar playing to make sure the sound is full. If I’m considering a song and I think it’s coming off too weak or thin, I won’t do it.”

That doesn’t happen often, though. If someone in a crowd calls out a favorite, Miller will usually try to oblige him or her. “I never go in a place with a set list,” he says. “My show is geared toward what the people want to hear.”

Miller can be contacted at (812) 988-2502. He plays every Friday at Salt Creek and every Saturday at the Abe Martin Lodge’s Little Gem Restaurant.